Sometimes, nothing else will do. You have your mind set on a grilled cheese or a gin martini or some frozen custard, and you will go anywhere, do anything just to scratch that itch. This year’s Food Issue is devoted to all those cravings. We’ve assembled 50 food and drink yearnings and determined places to best satisfy all of them. So whether you can’t stop thinking about pancakes or desperately need a Szechuan Chinese fix, we’ve got you covered. —Jessica Sidman

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Cut-above fries: Blue Duck Tavern

1201 24th St. NW, (202) 419-6755, blueducktavern.com

I consider myself a connoisseur of french fries. If I see them on the menu, I’m going to order them. They’re one of those items I find tells me a lot about a restaurant. After all, if the kitchen screws up something as relatively simple as this, I’m definitely going to be leery of ordering their wallet-busting gourmet burger. I loved the Jenga-sized, triple-frizzled fries that were one of Blue Duck Tavern’s long-running, signature items. So I was more than a little skeptical when I learned that chef de cuisine Brad Deboy decided to revamp them. And then I tried them. Damn, if he didn’t go and make them even more awesome. He starts by steaming gold potatoes until tender and then mashing them until velveteen. They’re set in a pan, cut into logs, dried overnight, and fried until golden brown. He serves the substantial sticks with spicy smoked pepper aioli. Guess I need to get back to the West End eatery for lunch soon, so I can sample Deboy’s fancy-ass cheeseburger. —Nevin Martell

Smothered fries: Crisp Kitchen + Bar

1837 First St. NW, (202) 853-9115, crispdc.com

Poutine isn’t as rare around these parts as it used to be, but I’m still always on the hunt for the best way to satisfy the inevitable craving for piping hot fries topped with cheese curds and meaty gravy. Chef Alex McCoy’s duck poutine at Crisp in Bloomingdale starts with a hefty layer of twice-fried, house-cut russets. He refers to the first fry as the “base tan,” and then the fries get another dunk in sizzling oil to order. The kitchen tosses on white cheddar curds, which come from different sources but often hail from Pennsylvania, for that essential squeaky-cheese element. And the final piece of the Lipitor trifecta is the black-pepper duck gravy composed of duck confit and stock made with the duck bones, plus molasses and woody herbs like thyme. It’s both the perfect way to prep for a rowdy night out and the cure, all in one savory powerhouse. —Rina Rapuano

Fried pickles: Boundary Stone

116 Rhode Island Ave. NW, (202) 621-6635, boundarystonedc.com

Boundary Stone has cracked the code on fried pickles, but it wasn’t always this way. The restaurant used to serve fried pickle spears, which were good, but too soft and juicy after the fryer. Fast forward to today. The restaurant completed a renovation in December and expanded the menu significantly. For the fried pickle lover, there’s a significant change: fried pickle chips. Boundary Stone slices whole dill pickles, tosses them in a cornmeal batter, then fries the chips to perfection. The new and improved offering hits all of the major hallmarks of a food craving: salty, deep-fried, and juicy. Plus, the honey dipping sauce adds an extra layer of sweetness. —Tim Ebner

 

Compass Roses pescaditos fritoss pescaditos fritos Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Fancy fried food: Compass Rose

1346 T St. NW, (202) 506-4765, compassrosedc.com

I crave the crunch of something perfectly fried every day. Enter Compass Rose, the restaurant specializing in global street food, which sells refined variations on deep-fried favorites. In-

stead of, say, bland fish sticks, they offer pescaditos fritos, tiny whole fish that are battered, fried, then dipped in an addictive citrus aioli. Meanwhile, brussels sprouts get softer and saltier after a trip to the frier. Even a past offering of corn dogs, which seem best eaten at a state fair, tasted fancier when shrunk to bite-sized and served on a plate with mustard. It might seem like a buzzy 14th Street cocktail bar, but the eats are just as appealing to high- and lowbrow palates. —Caroline Jones

 

Righteous Cheese’s brie grilled cheese Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Grilled cheese: Righteous Cheese

1309 5th St. NE, (202) 716-3320, righteouscheese.com

As you might imagine, a grilled cheese from a cheesemonger is, well, pretty righteous. The outstanding sandwiches here change every so often, and they try to keep one option fairly kid-friendly. Two choices—such as brie on sourdough and manchego with roasted tomato spread on sourdough—are generally on offer. The bread is sourced from Lyon Bakery, which also has a stall at Union Market. And while cheese and bread are already pretty high on the addictiveness scale, the cornerstone of my powerful craving for these particular grilled cheeses might just be the chili-infused dipping honey that can be added to your order for $1. Don’t be cheap. Just do it. Pro tip: Rappahannock Oyster Bar allows customers to bring food over from other market vendors, so there’s no need to choose between raw oysters with cocktails and a gooey grilled cheese. —Rina Rapuano

Mac and cheese: Hank’s Oyster Bar 

Multiple locations, hanksoysterbar.com

Hank’s Oyster Bar may sound more like a place for something cold and briny than something warm and gooey. But make no mistake: The seafood-centric standby has the best mac and cheese around. Too many versions of the comfort food have pools of oil, stringy cheese, or soupy cream. At Hank’s, a super creamy sauce coats every edge and fills every nook of the large elbow noodles. (Perhaps that’s why the $7 side is dubbed mac and cheesy.) Sharp white cheddar sets the scene, while smoked gouda provides the intriguing plot twist. A sprinkling of crunchy bread crumbs on top ensures your mouth lives happily ever after. —Jessica Sidman

Greasy breakfast: Pumpernickel’s Deli

5504 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 244-9505, pumpdeli.com

The District has no shortage of Instagrammable breakfast choices: avocado on toast, say, or endless pitchers of mimosas. Sometimes, though, you just want an overflowing bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. Enter Pumpernickel’s, the home of Chevy Chase’s most brimming foam containers. If you can brave the line, you’ll see Pumpernickel’s speedy and often irate short-order cooks turn up loads of cheese omelets and French toast. There’s something to be said for artisanal tartines, but when you want something big and heavy to brace yourself for the day, it’s Pumpernickel’s. —Will Sommer

 

Bad Saint’s chicken adobo Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Funky food: Bad Saint

3226 11th St. NW, badsaintdc.com

One of the most prized possessions in the kitchen of Bad Saint is a bottle of sugar cane vinegar with chilies, garlic, and a hodgepodge of spices. Chef Tom Cunanan is continuously adding more vinegar and ingredients to the secret sauce, and as it ages, it develops more character and complexity. “Chef guards that with his life,” says co-owner Genevieve Villamora.

The condiment is used to finish some dishes on the menu, but vinegar in general plays prominently in the funky flavors of Filipino cuisine. It’s a key building block in the national dish of the Philippines, adobo, which uses vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic.  

Bad Saint’s menu changes often, but you can always count on at least one variation of adobo. The Columbia Heights restaurant has played around with one version incorporating pig tails and another with squid, which had a sauce darkened by ink and spiced up with long pepper. (Adobo is not typically spicy.) On a recent visit, though, one of the dreamiest dishes was sour, creamy chicken adobo, which (in a break with tradition) incorporated coconut milk, turmeric, cauliflower, and kabocha squash.

The dish I still have stuck in my head, though, is a vegan adobo with a silky-yet-chewy texture from banana blossom hearts and tofu skins. The dish was enveloped in a gravy-like sauce with black peppercorn, tomatoes, green beans, and more. 

“A popular stereotype of Filipino food is that it is heavily meaty,” Villamora says. “But you can grow anything there, so there are so many fruits and vegetables there that people use.”

The most eye-catching dish, however, is ukoy, a freshwater shrimp and sweet potato fritter served with—you guessed it—a vinegar dipping sauce with bits of red onion. The tangle of fried goodness looks like a nest with the beady black eyes of the small sea creatures peering through. Some diners will polish off the plate but leave the shrimp heads behind.  Don’t make the same mistake. The funky parts are the best parts. —Jessica Sidman

Breakfast after 11 a.m.: Parkway Deli

8317 Grubb Road, Silver Spring, (301) 587-1427, theparkwaydeli.com

While D.C. is full of places to brunch on weekends, it doesn’t have as many options for hungry patrons in search of eggs and waffles after 11 a.m. on a weekday. To access the region’s deepest breakfast menu available from sunrise to sunset, eaters need to just barely cross the line into Maryland and grab a booth at Silver Spring’s Parkway Deli. The 53-year-old restaurant specializes in New York–style deli fare, offering everything from bagels with salty lox to creamy blintzes to matzoh brei. Potatoes, which can ruin a breakfast when prepared poorly, always come out perfectly, whether in the form of thin hash browns or fluffy latkes. More traditional breakfast fare like a luscious, custardy French toast (made with challah) and classic omelettes are available for purists. Just come prepared to make lots of decisions: You’ve got 12 kinds of meat and eight kinds of bread to choose from. —Caroline Jones

Taste of Texas: Republic Kolache

Multiple locations, republic-kolache.com

There’s nothing like a kolache to bring Texans out of the woodwork. One bite of these filled pillowy pastries of Czech origin, and suddenly you know what it feels like to be homesick for the Lone Star state. Republic Kolache has smartly capitalized on the kolache’s conspicuous absence in the D.C. area since it started serving them at pop-ups a year and a half ago. The bakery has wrapped up both its American Ice Company and Union Market pop-ups as of late May, but you can now find them at Dacha Beer Garden from 9:30 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays and at Hill Country Barbecue on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings starting July 1. Expect to find some of the bakery’s most popular flavors—such as the half-smoke or cream cheese and pecan—as well as new options that incorporate Hill Country’s smoked meats. And don’t worry, you can still get your cold-brew coffee fix. Plus, co-owner Chris Svetlik says they are launching a sister brand, Republic Tacos, and actively working to open their own brick-and-mortar location. —Rina Rapuano

New York bagel: Bethesda Bagels 

Multiple locations, bethesdabagels.com

When I lived in New York City years ago, my a.m. routine almost always included one of two phrases: “egg and cheese on everything” or “everything with chive.” Bagels, along with strong coffee, were the fuel I needed to shake off the night before and get on with my day. I always took them for granted, which was my mistake, because when I moved to the District in 2006, I came to realize that to most of America the word bagel, roughly translated, means “doughy bread circle of disappointment.” I was heartbroken. Until, one Saturday morning, I stumbled into Bethesda Bagels, fearing the worst, but unable to stop myself from trying to get my everything-with-chive fix. It was a homecoming. The round was still warm and didn’t need a moment in the toaster. The bagel had just the right amount of chew, and there was a pleasant plumpness to it, ensuring my daily dose of carbs would be fulfilled in a single meal. The counterman schmeared on the chive-flecked cream cheese with gusto, so it spilled over the edges and threatened to drip on my clothes, but I didn’t care. For a moment, I was back in Manhattan. —Nevin Martell

Smoked fish: The Tavern at Ivy City Smokehouse

1356 Okie St. NE, (202) 529-3300, ivycitytavern.com

Previous generations smoked and cured fish to stretch its shelf life before refrigeration. But at Ivy City Smokehouse, it’s possible the smoked salmon you’re eating was swimming in the Atlantic just days prior. The smokehouse shares ownership with seafood wholesaler ProFish across the street, making instantaneous sourcing a cinch. Only simple ingredients are required for seasoning: salt, sugar, and organic honey. “Everything is smoked in really small batches over hickory and applewood before it’s cured overnight,” says John Rorapaugh, the director of sustainability for ProFish. Experience the range of Ivy City Smokehouse’s products at the upstairs tavern by ordering a platter ($14) that aggressively feeds one, or the sampler ($20) for two. Both proffer smoked salmon, whitefish salad, smoked rainbow trout, pepper salmon, and “Indian Candy.” The candy, with a name only Dan Snyder would condone, is a drug. See if you can stop at one rectangle of this firm, smoked salmon that tastes of maple and imitates a Pacific Northwest Native American snack. —Laura Hayes

 

The Riggsby’s pancakes with banana-caramel sauce Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Decked-out pancakes: The Riggsby

1731 New Hampshire Ave. NW, (202) 787-1500, theriggsby.com

When it comes to the great pancake/waffle/French toast debate, most people harbor a passionate opinion as to which maple syrup vehicle is tops. If you land squarely on #teampancake, you must try the ultra-fluffy disks served during breakfast and brunch at restaurateur and chef Michael Schlow’s restaurant in the Kimpton-owned Carlyle Hotel. Griddled with clarified butter and topped with a banana-caramel sauce, toasted hazelnuts, and orange zest, these might just be the best pancakes I’ve ever had. The restaurant claims the recipe is pretty basic, saying the secret to their airiness is “baking powder and a lot of love”—but we call bullshit. There must be unicorn tears in there somewhere. —Rina Rapuano

A legit hoagie: Bub and Pop’s

1815 M St. NW, (202) 457-1111, bubandpops.com

In D.C., there’s Bub and Pop’s, and then there’s every other sandwich shop. Nothing quite compares to the epic hoagies coming out of this mother-and-son operation. Maybe it’s because of the mounds of meats and vegetables overstuffed into soft Lyon Bakery rolls. Or maybe it’s because the chef, Jonathan Taub, has serious culinary cred earned in upscale restaurants like Adour and Art & Soul. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but I am partial to Pop’s beef brisket with tender slow-braised meat, apple-horseradish cream, slabs of five-year-aged gouda, and veal jus. If you’re feeling extra decadent, add a fried egg for a dollar. Now good luck eating it without getting wonderful, greasy juices all over your hands, chin, and nose. —Jessica Sidman

Taste of Maine: Luke’s Lobster

Multiple locations, lukeslobster.com

This Maine girl only trusts the child of a Maine lobsterman to make her a lobster roll. Georgetown grad and fellow Pine Tree state native Luke Holden knows to use a buttered and toasted split-top bun, stuff it with (Maine!) tail and claw meat, and mix it with just a bit of mayo. No fancy stuff. Mainers hate fancy stuff. If I’m really homesick, I pair it with a crab roll, sweet Jonah crab claws, and a (Maine-made) Maine Root soda. Blueberry, of course. Maine blueberries. Did I mention I’m from Maine? —Jessica Strelitz

Neapolitan pizza: 2 Amys

3715 Macomb St. NW, (202) 885-5700, 2amysdc.com

2 Amys’ certified Vera Pizza Napoletana pies are consistent reminders of the pleasure possible with just a handful of simple, quality ingredients. Case-in-point is the traditional margherita, which combines creamy buffalo mozzarella with a fresh, runny tomato sauce and fragrant basil leaves. The Enta, another menu staple, is a sublime blend of eggplant confit, briny capers, and salty grana cheese. Build-your-own toppings are encouraged as well, and don’t sleep on the daily specials, which in true Italian fashion, often feature seasonal and kitchen favorites like ramps, squash blossoms, and house-made sausage. The oven-fired crusts at 2 Amys manage to be both doughy and charred around the edges with a soft, thin bottom. The individual pizzas range in price from $10 to around $14, depending on the toppings, making it a suitable option for both quick takeout or a more leisurely meal. Wait times can mount during peak hours, but the dependable product makes it worth the investment. —Travis Mitchell

Non-Neapolitan pizza: All Purpose

1250 9th St. NW, (202) 849-6174, allpurposedc.com 

Ubiquitous Neapolitan pies are great and all, but sometimes you want a pizza that’s a little more substantial and won’t require the John Kasich–style embarrassment of using a fork and knife. At All Purpose, the new Shaw spot from the owners of The Red Hen and Boundary Stone, it all starts with the dough. Chef Mike Friedman ferments it for three days, then bakes his pizzas in a slower-cooking deck oven (as opposed to the popular wood-fired ovens), which helps caramelize the dough. Even with a pile of toppings—like artichokes, ramps, stinging nettles, and pistachio pesto or white clam sauce, littleneck clams, smoked guanciale, and spring peas—each slice is easy to hold. Best of all, the crust is so good you won’t want to discard it like watermelon rinds. —Jessica Sidman

Italian carb load: Ghibellina

1610 14th St. NW, (202) 803-2389, ghibellina.com

If my Italian grandmother and running habits have taught me anything, it’s never to take gluten for granted. Copious amounts of gluten. Bountiful, pliable, life-giving gluten. Capiche? Ghibellina definitely doesn’t. Diners are welcomed with rustic, fluffy bread and really, really, ridiculously good–tasting olive oil, although this Brooklyn boy suggests you exercise some restraint on the freebies and hold out for the main menu. The restaurant’s antipasti are a tempting array of carbs—crispy risotto cakes, chicken liver crostini, and fried seafood with polenta cubes. And then there are the pastas and pizzas, which never fail to excite. The rigatoni ragu speckled with grana padano comforts the soul, and the gnocchi

is the perfect match for versatile pomodoro sauce. The four-cheese and ramp pizzas both feature heavenly, creamy ricotta. And don’t neglect ordering the the chocolate hazelnut cake for dessert. To quote grandma: Mangia. —Andrew Giambrone

 

Jaleo’s salmon tartare cones with trout roe, gambas alajillo, and chicken croquetas Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Tapas: Jaleo

480 7th St. NW, (202) 628-7949, jaleo.com

When Jaleo opened more than two decades ago, tapas were still a novel concept to most Washingtonians. Today, global variations are everywhere—so much so that there’s now an aggressive backlash against small plates underway. But even the most fervent haters of shareable dishes will find something to love at the Penn Quarter José Andrés landmark, which is still my go-to tapas spot all these years later. It’s a crime if you don’t order a round of the croquetas stuffed with chicken or ibérico ham. They’re the crispiest, gooiest fried food around, and the pollo option is served inexplicably in dish that’s shaped like a sneaker. Counterbalance that with any of the vegetable dishes—Andrés loves his veggies—but particularly a plate of roasted red peppers, eggplant, and sweet onions with sherry dressing and toasted bread. Other highlights include the sea urchin and butter-topped toast, sauteed shrimp with garlic, and basically anything with Spanish ham. And, of course, you’re going to want to accompany your parade of plates with one of six types of gin and tonics. They’re the best in the city—and there’s nothing small about them. —Jessica Sidman

Chinese carb load: Peter Chang

2503 N. Harrison St., Arlington, (703) 538-6688, peterchangarlington.com

Nothing could keep me away from this epiphany-inducing Szechuan eatery. The staff could refer to me as a “plaid asshole” on my check and I wouldn’t care, because I love the food that much. When I’m in the mood for some serious carb loading, the puffed-up scallion bubble pancakes are a mandatory starter. Tear off a strip of the still-hot deep-fried dough and a whoosh of steam escapes. Dunk the feathery bit into the warm curry sauce and chew while you watch the edible balloon slowly deflate. Grandma’s noodles—a riot of spicy, savory, and oniony notes—are another must-have. From there, move on to the dry-fried eggplant, sizzled crisp on the outside and alive with Chinese chili powder, hot paprika, and plenty of cilantro to add a little levity. Last, but certainly not least, the meal needs to include the appropriately named hot and numbing noodles, which, like all the noodles, are made in-house. You’ll leave with your palate ablaze, but already planning your next trip back. —Nevin Martell

Tongue-tingling Szechuan cooking: Panda Gourmet 

2700 New York Ave. NE, (202) 534-1620

The fiery Chinese cooking coming out of this unassuming restaurant attached to a Days Inn has garnered something of a cult following over the past few years. The main attraction is the addicting, tongue-tingling heat of the flavorful Szechuan chili oil used in many of the dishes. Its numbing sensation is different from the forehead-sweating, mouth-igniting spice of hot Buffalo wings or habanero salsa. The restaurant’s mapo tofu is a perfectly balanced showcase of Panda Gourmet’s signature Chinese flavors. The sizeable portion is spicy, savory, and silky, and best ladled over fluffy steamed rice. It will make you return again and again, especially during dreary weather. Other dishes to try include the dan dan noodles bathed in a zippy peanut and chili-oil sauce as well as the tangy and sour Qishan noodle soup. —Travis Mitchell

Super spicy food: Thip Khao 

3462 14th St. NW, (202) 387-5426, thipkhao.com

When I order the two “phet phet”—extremely spicy—dishes at Thip Khao, the server looks at me as if I’ve just asked her to wax off my eyebrows. I assure her I like spicy. I can handle spicy. The first dish is a shredded papaya salad mixed with unfiltered fish sauce, and the second is a pho noodle salad with shrimp and crab paste, green beans, Thai eggplant, crispy bits of pig ear, and dried and steamed shrimp. Both come from the Laotian restaurant’s “jungle” menu, which offers the most intense flavors and “adventurous” ingredients. Within seconds of digging in, the fire takes over. My husband admits defeat after only a few bites, but I power on. As long as I don’t stop eating, the heat doesn’t fully hit me. But the second I stop, it all catches up. My eyes are watering. Snot is dripping out of my nose. Did I permanently sear off my taste buds? I don’t know, but the heat paralyzes me from asking the question out loud. Would an eyebrow wax would be less intense after all? Maybe. But it wouldn’t hurt this good. —Jessica Sidman

Seafood that was swimming minutes ago: Soju Sarang 

4231 Markham St., Unit E, Annandale, Va., (703) 256-3565, sojusarang.com 

When it comes to sashimi, most people think Japanese. But let’s not forget that South Korea is a peninsula with plenty of seafood cred in its own right. When you walk the streets of Seoul, even some sidewalk vendors have tanks full of live fish ready to be sliced up and cooked to order. The closest you can come to that experience without the 12-hour flight is at Soju Sarang in Annandale, Va. Tanks filled with live sea creatures greet you at the entrance of the strip mall restaurant. Survey the tables around you, and it will quickly become evident that a sashimi platter is the way to go. (Be warned: A “small” can easily feed two to three.) But first, a dozen banchan—complimentary small plates—crowd the table, including anything from a sour jellyfish salad to a whole foot-long mackerel. The raw fish platter is equally generous with slabs of salmon, octopus, yellowfin, tuna, surf clam, and fresh-from-the-tank flounder alongside sea squirt and sea cucumber. And just when you think there couldn’t possibly be more food, here comes a bubbling cauldron of stew made with tofu, rice cakes, and leftover fish bones and lobster shells. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, supplement your meal with sannakji, a live octopus dish offered only on Fridays. It’s so fresh that when it hits the table, it’s still squirming. —Jessica Sidman

Korean barbecue: Kogiya 

4220-A Annandale Road, Annandale, Va., (703) 942-6995, kogiya.com

At lot of restaurants make it a pain to bring a big group of friends: Maybe there aren’t enough large tables, or maybe the dishes are so small that they’re awkwardly shared. But Korean barbecue is the ultimate way to bring together your besties of all budgets and make sure everyone gets their fill. Kogiya, in particular, does it right with fresh, generous banchan (like kimchi and lemon-wasabi daikon) and quality meats cooked on each table’s grill. The all-you-can-eat options are a great way for groups to go. For $23 per person, you get a generous helping of fatty brisket, three types of pork belly, and spicy chicken. (The $29 option adds intestines.) Throw in a couple bottles of soju, and it’s a party. Beyond the food and drinks, Kogiya stands out because it thinks of all the little things. Each table has drawers with chopsticks, napkins, and spoons, and you can stash your jackets inside the drum-like seats to prevent them from smelling like barbecue. Then again, this is a meal you won’t mind lingering in your nostrils. —Jessica Sidman

Sushi: Sushi Taro 

1503 17th St. NW, (202) 462-8999, sushitaro.com

No need to dunk your sushi in soy sauce like a chicken nugget in ketchup. Every piece of nigiri at Sushi Taro is already seasoned in perfect balance. If anything, it requires no more than a tiny dab of soy sauce to enhance the fish’s delicate flavor and perfectly formed pads of rice. The freshness of the seafood is a big part of what sets Sushi Taro apart—from the rich New Zealand king salmon to the delicate sweet raw shrimp. Ikura, bright orange orbs of salmon roe, taste like pure salt at most sushi restaurants. But at Sushi Taro, what might otherwise be my least favorite piece of sushi is a highlight, thanks to sweeter, slightly smoky fish eggs. Indulging at Sushi Taro can be a luxury with prices to match. But for one of the best bargains in the city, head to the restaurant during happy hour from 5:30 to 7 p.m. weekdays at the bar only. Almost all of the sushi is half-price (as are drinks), and people line up as much as an hour in advance to ensure they get one of the coveted seats. —Jessica Sidman

French food without the fuss: Chez Billy Sud 

1039 31st St. NW, (202) 965-2606, chezbillysud.com

There is a certain well-regarded French restaurant in town that sometimes feels like a mob scene-meets-fashion show on a Friday night. (Cough, Le Diplomate.) Chez Billy Sud doesn’t have that same trendy buzz, but what it does, it does très bien. The dishes are classics—don’t expect a lot of fancy flourishes or boundary-pushing twists. But sometimes the best food is unfussy food, expertly and elegantly executed. Take basics like soups, hot or cold. Nothing is more refreshing than chilled carrot soup “perfumed” with ginger and cardamom and topped with yogurt, mint, and nasturtiums. Meanwhile, a classic onion soup aces the sweet caramelized onion flavor and cheesy goodness. One of the few riffs you may encounter on the menu are meaty soft-shell crabs prepared in the style of trout amandine with slivers of almonds and green beans. It’s one of the better soft-shell crab dishes I’ve had. Best of all, you can enjoy a conversation in a normal speaking voice: The pastel green dining room is not one of those places so loud you have to yell over the din of the crowd. —Jessica Sidman

 

The Dabney chef/owner Jeremiah Langhorne Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Local and seasonal: The Dabney

122 Blagden Alley NW, (202) 450-1015, thedabney.com

You know The Dabney is no ordinary restaurant when your server casually mentions that the food runner is also an oyster farmer. That’s how the Mid-Atlantic-centric restaurant came to serve White Stone oysters—perfectly shucked, perfectly chilled bivalves augmented with a touch of mignotte made with rotating artisanal vinegars. The sweet and briny Virginia oysters taste more like they came from the West Coast.

“They’re the best oysters out of the Chesapeake,” chef/owner Jeremiah Langhorne claims. 

He’s reading my mind.

The beauty of The Dabney is the care it takes in sourcing the very best ingredients—locally, of course. In his quest to create an identity for Mid-Atlantic cuisine, Langhorne has scoured the region for native plants, many of which you’ve likely never even heard of.

Langhorne goes foraging once or twice a week, often on the 400 acres at The Farm at Sunnyside in Washington, Va. Recently, the chef has picked up some wild yarrow (a medicinal herb used in a lot of teas), field garlic, and sheep sorrel (the leaves supposedly look like a sheep’s head).

The Dabney also employs a part-time gardener to maintain its rooftop plot, which grows 40 to 50 types of herbs and vegetables. Langhorne says they’ve done a number of “Pepsi challenge taste tests,” but with basil and other plants to see how they compare to other sources’ produce. The roof greens always win out.

A tangle of rooftop-grown anise hyssop, basil, pea shoots, lovage, nasturtium, and coriander flowers dress up a creamy bright green ramp custard, a recent dish that was basically spring in a bowl. Puffed sorghum grains, which look like itty bitty popcorn kernels, and pickled ramps added crunch and punch to the dish.

The menu is so seasonal that it will look completely different on each visit. But you can count on the family-style section of the menu for a meal cooked over the wood-fire hearth in the heart of the open kitchen. The pedigreed proteins for two or more may include a Whistle Pig Farm aged duck or Rettland Farm half-chicken.

Langhorne visits and vets the farms he uses, and the quality shows. “That’s why we buy from the farms that we do. That’s why we work with the purveyors that we work with,” Langhorne says. “They do things right, and those things end up mattering.” —Jessica Sidman

 

Espita Mezcaleria’s beef short rib with chichilo mole Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Mole: Espita

1250 9th St. NW, (202) 621-9695, espitadc.com

Most people might think of mole as that thick, chocolatey brown sauce that tops braised chicken or pork. But in fact, mole—simply meaning “mixed”—has much more variety. For many Mexicans, it’s a time-honored food tradition that usually goes back through several generations of family recipes.

“Just like how the French have their mother sauces, in Oaxaca there are seven styles of mole,” says Josh Phillips, the founder, general manager, and master mezcalier of Espita Mezcaleria.

The Oaxacan-inspired Shaw restaurant offers entrees smothered in moles of all colors, each with its own unique blend of ingredients.  “It’s a popular dish,” says chef Alexis Samayoa. “But the hardest thing has been explaining to people what moles are, and how many of them that are out there.”

Phillips and Samayoa can rattle off the seven types of mole quickly: poblano, verde, amarillo, negro, manchamantel (a red chili sauce that literally means “tablecloth stainer”), coloradito (which contains mashed sweet plantains), and chichilo (made from beef stock). 

The most traditional variety is a mole poblano. Espita’s version has 23 ingredients, including the base ingredients of mulato peppers, raisins, walnuts, and chocolate. But the customer favorite so far is the braised short ribs topped with the mole chichilo. The mole tastes very much like a steak sauce and offers just the right amount of heat.

Mole research and development is no easy thing, Samayoa says. He rented out a kitchen space at Union Kitchen and spent the better part of three months researching and developing each sauce. 

“Mole is really a Rubik’s cube of colors and shapes,” he says. “To create a sauce, you have to be focused on the technique, the use of chile, the specific region in Mexico—really there are a lot of things to be thinking about.”

That said, Samayoa wouldn’t necessarily call himself a mole expert. “I’m constantly talking to my cooks and asking them about their mom’s and grandma’s recipe,” he says. —Tim Ebner

Meat in a pouch: Kantutas

2462 Ennalls Ave., Wheaton, Md., (301) 929-2865

In a Wheaton strip mall, near the end of the Red Line, is where you’ll find saltena salvation. For those unfamiliar, the saltena is basically a bigger, meatier take on the empanada. Kantutas is one of the few Bolivian restaurants that consistently serves authentic dishes, including various meats stuffed into breaded pouches. Most Saturdays and Sundays, tables fill up fast for a late desayuno (translation: brunch). The saltenas come in chicken and beef varieties and are stuffed with a stew of olives, hard boiled eggs, and green peas. Dive right into this steaming pouch and be prepared with a napkin, or two: It’s a soupy mess that’s likely to end up in your lap. —Tim Ebner

A finger-licking slab of ribs: The BBQ Joint

2005 14th St. NW, (202) 747-2377, andrewevansbbqjoint.com

When Andrew Evans goes for the gold at barbecue competitions, he only pulls out three ribs—the best ones are two bones in from the fat side. The BBQ Joint chef and owner made his transition from fine dining to pitmaster after getting hooked on these competitions. Now, he recreates his award-winning recipes at four D.C.-area locations, including his freshest spot on 14th Street. There, a red light out front signifies when racks of ribs are still hot from the smoker, ready to satisfy any primal craving for a smoky, sweet, sticky rack. Evans, after all, only serves his ribs by the full rack ($30) unless you get a sampler meat plate. “There’s skinny bones, fat bones, and end bones. If you get a rack, you get the full gambit of quality,” he explains. The lacquered ribs come out with a heavy sprinkling of coarse pepper, lending an extra layer of flavor and texture. Opt to dribble on additional sauce in flavors like “swicy” that comingles sweet and spicy. —Laura Hayes

Goat: Kapnos 

2201 14th St. NW, (202) 234-5000, kapnosdc.com

Goat is a stubborn craving to satisfy because it’s relatively hard to find compared to, say, steak or lamb. When you want something a bit gamey but not overly so (looking at you, venison), the spiced baby goat at Mike Isabella’s Kapnos hits the spot. It’s roasted, ever so slowly, on a spit in the restaurant’s open kitchen. Walking past it as you head to your table will help you quickly move past whatever qualms you might have about eating baby animals. What will do that even better is chewing the charred, tender, smoky meat served with napa cabbage, chickpeas, and red peppers. —Andrew Giambrone

Spicy fried chicken: Bonchon

Multiple locations, us.bonchon.com

There are other good things on Bonchon’s menu, but the reason to go there is for the fiery Korean-style fried chicken. In terms of heat, it probably rates less than half way up Nashville’s epic appetizing-yet-excruciating scale. But like its Music City cousin “hot chicken,” Bonchon’s bird offers the irresistible combination of fire and crunch. The wings are good, but I prefer the breast-meat strips. Their relatively regular shape allows for a thinner, more even coating that provides a satisfying crispiness that’s somehow both delicate and profoundly crackling. That crunch remains even if you raid the icebox for leftovers that night. The chicken (also available as drumsticks—but why?) comes with a serving of pickled daikon radishes, which like the water or beer you will drink plenty of, is a nice intermezzo between spicy pieces. Other (mostly Western-style) sides are available á la carte. And, if you, like I, are in a mixed marriage, Bonchon is still a safe place to take a more heat-adverse significant other. But if what you really long for is chicken so good it will make you cry, this is the joint. No, seriously: It will make you cry. —Jandos Rothstein

Restorative soup that isn’t Asian: El Sol Restaurante & Tequileria

3911 14th St. NW, (202) 545-0081, elsol-dc.com

Washingtonians often gravitate toward pho or ramen when we need a warming pick-me-up—or, let’s be honest here, a hangover remedy—but I beg you to reconsider. The pozole rojo at this well-regarded Mexican spot can definitely hold its own against any bowl of Asian noodle soup in the area for fixing what ails you. The nutrient-rich, brick-red broth is filled with stick-to-your-ribs braised pork and hominy—aka, just what the abuela ordered. It’s served with a side of fried tortillas, radish, and lime, which provide crunch and brightness to counteract the richness of the soup. It’s also found on the restaurant’s three-course brunch deal, which includes beers or cocktails for $2 more. Because hair of the dog, right? —Rina Rapuano

A taco feast: Taco Bamba

2190 Pimmit Drive, Falls Church, Va., (703) 639-0505, tacobambarestaurant.com

At a typical taqueria, it’s safe to go alone. When your options are chicken with cilantro and diced onions, carnitas with cilantro and diced onions, steak with cilantro and diced onions—you get the idea—you can order in peace, no FOMO. At Taco Bamba, every taco on the “Taco Nuestros” (our tacos) menu begs to be tried. Bring company and order as many of these eight tacos as you can. One highlight is El Beso (the kiss) with perfectly crispy pork and beef tongue, charred scallions, and chili aioli. Another: the Black Pearl with fried tilapia, coleslaw, and a black squid-ink aioli. There’s no way to go wrong, not even with El Gringo, a delightfully low-brow bacon cheeseburger taco with ranch dressing inside a flour tortilla. Round out your feast with chips and guacamole (the avocados are grilled before they’re mashed) and corn on the cob coated with mayo, cotija cheese, and chili powder. —Zach Rausnitz

Vegetarian pho: Sprig and Sprout

2317 Wisconsin Ave. NW, (202) 333-2569, sprig-and-sprout.com

For many restaurants, vegetarian and vegan options are a mere afterthought. That’s not a knock against them—most diners are omnivores—it’s just the reality. But Glover Park’s Sprig and Sprout goes to great lengths to ensure its menu is as inclusive to diners who don’t eat meat. Highlights of the veg menu include an array of filling appetizers (veggie summer and egg rolls, lemongrass poppers, tofu fries with spicy sriracha aioli) and veggie pho, which comes brimming with two different types of fried tofu (lemongrass and salt and pepper) and a spread of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and daikon. Diners can also opt for the vermicelli bowl, which is filled with many of the same pho ingredients but topped off with Sprig and Sprout’s signature sweet and tangy dressing. —Matt Cohen

Vegetables not in salad form: Chaia

3207 Grace St. NW, (202) 333-5222, chaiadc.com

Vegetables may not inspire the kind of cravings that pizza, burgers, or doughnuts do. But if you satisfy those greasy-carb cravings too well, you may find yourself with a genuine lust for something leafy and naturally colorful. Go to Chaia, a place where vegetables have reached their highest potential: as ingredients in tacos. Try the butternut squash taco with caramelized onion, ricotta, chipotle yogurt, cilantro, and microgreens, or the creamy kale and potato with pepperjack cheese, pickled onions, crema, green sauce, and microgreens. A trio of Chaia tacos boasts a greater variety of vegetables than most salads, and who craves salad anyway? Warm, hearty corn tortillas provide the base, and every taco has enough cheese to make sure you don’t leave this plant-heavy meal craving protein. —Zach Rausnitz

Control: Cava Grill

Multiple locations, cavagrill.com

Since you live in D.C., you must be a Type-A person with boundless ambition and a borderline unhealthy desire to compete. You also need control—you crave it in every aspect of your life—so obviously the booming fast-casual scene with all its build-your-own options delights you. But which spot will let you be a control freak without ending up with an inedible bowl of mush? Enter Cava Grill, which gives you several opportunities to create your own Mediterranean dish, from base (including salad and grain bowl), dips and spreads (hummus, harissa, crazy feta), proteins (falafel, grilled chicken, roasted seasonal veggies), toppings (so many!), and dressings (sriracha greek yogurt, greek vinaigrette). The combos are varied, but it’s tough to end up with something that doesn’t taste great. There’s even an online nutrition calculator that allows you to determine precisely how many calories your meal will contain. Nothing tastes quite as good as complete authority. —Sarah Anne Hughes

Vitamin D: Bardo

1200-1216 Bladensburg Road NE, (762) 233-7070, bardodc.com

Beer gardens are as plentiful as dandelions in D.C. Most feel like an oasis—Shaw’s Dacha, for example, has plenty of umbrellas and even provides a cool mist during the summer—but not Bardo in Trinidad. The Mad Maxian space, complete with painted shipping containers and a giant skull made out of beer cans, is almost totally devoid of shade, with just a few umbrellas and some trees providing modest coverage. This forces patrons to do two things: soak up the sun and drink a lot of beer brewed on-site. With plenty of water for both humans and dogs (who are welcome to roam unleashed), it’s a perfect spot for those who crave alcohol and vitamin D. —Sarah Anne Hughes

 

Woodward Takeout Food’s bombolone Credit: Darrow Montgomery

A decadent afternoon snack: Woodward Takeout Food

1426 H St. NW, (202) 347-5355, woodwardtable.com

If you’re craving something sweet around 2:30 p.m., you’d be lucky to find yourself in the vicinity of 15th and H streets NW. Woodward Takeout Food is primarily a gourmet sandwich and salad destination for the office hordes, but it’s nearly impossible to make it to the cash register without being tempted by a face-sized bacon and chocolate chip cookie or an oversized crispy rice treat specked with Oreos. More delightful still are the treats in the pastry and gelato cases. This summer, the cafe has been serving pineapple sorbet in half-pineapples and coconut sorbet in half-coconut shells as well as often rotating gelato flavors like maple waffle and cardamom popcorn. Meanwhile, the fanciful pastries are the kind of desserts you’d otherwise expect to find at the end of a fine dining meal: decorated fruit tartlets, a chocolate strawberry cake glinting with gold leaf, a chic mound of tiramisu. Best of all, most can be packed to-go for under $5. —Jessica Sidman

Ice Cream Jubilee’s banana bourbon caramel ice cream Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Alcoholic ice cream and sorbet: Ice Cream Jubilee

301 Water St. SE, (202) 863-0727, icecreamjubilee.com

A wave of tranquility will likely hit you when you walk into Navy Yard’s Ice Cream Jubilee and glimpse the frozen gold. Partly, that may have have to do with the store’s no-frills ambience, located in a light-filled box on the first floor of a modernized industrial building called the “Lumber Shed.” The cream-colored walls provide a calming backdrop for sugar-crazed patrons at pains to settle on a flavor. Those who can’t decide between dessert or a cocktail should try Jubilee’s banana bourbon caramel ice cream and gin and tonic sorbet. Made with good old friend Jim Beam, the banana bourbon caramel boasts ripened fruit, which is pureed and spiked with hints of nutty spices. (If Instagram is to be believed, the flavor is a favorite of Nats outfielder Bryce Harper.) The gin and tonic sorbet gets imbued with Beefeater and a hint of lime, an equally refreshing, though marginally less indulgent, treat. Like you would with a great drink, relax and enjoy. —Andrew Giambrone

Parisian sweets: Praline Bakery and Bistro

4611 Sangamore Road, Bethesda, (301) 229-8180, praline-bakery.com

A good dessert is worth going the extra mile for, whether that means hopping on a plane to Paris or driving up MacArthur Boulevard to Praline Bakery’s Bethesda outpost. While you won’t find the sugary New Orleans confections there, what the shop offers is so much better: piles of croissants, macarons, and tarts that glisten with butter. Don’t worry about pronouncing the overtly French pastry names correctly; judge the day’s offerings by look and scent. Sweet and fruity apple and apricot feuillete and delicately layered slices of opera cake could have been flown in from the Left Bank, but the bakers also apply their classic techniques to American sweets like brownies and cinnamon rolls. Selecting only one treat from Praline’s dozens of delicacies feels like settling, so don’t do it. Grab a variety of treats to go, then invite friends over to share in the bounty. If you have to choose just one cake because you’re marking a birthday, anniversary, or a day ending in “y,” the indulgent chocolate mousse topped with pieces of dark chocolate and a tiny macaron feels extra celebratory. —Caroline Jones

Frozen custard: The Dairy Godmother

2310 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, (703) 683-7767, thedairygodmother.com

I’m from Wisconsin, which is home to lots of terrible things: one of America’s most racially segregated cities, extremely nasal accents, and Paul Ryan, to name a few. It might be worth suffering through all of the above because Wisconsin also has the highest concentration of frozen custard shops in the world. For the uninitiated, frozen custard is like smoother, richer ice cream, and under no circumstances should it go in a pie. Dickey’s Frozen Custard closed its downtown shop, and Rita’s Italian Ice is an abomination (what kind of disturbed individual combines shaved ice and a dairy product?), so that leaves The Dairy Godmother. The owner is a Wisconsinite who knows the proper methods for preparing and storing this summertime treat, and, like a good Midwesterner, she features a rotating flavor of the day. I have skipped friends’ birthdays and once-in-a-lifetime concerts because they were in Virginia, but I will find a way make it to Del Ray for a cone at least a few times this summer. —Stephanie Rudig

Warm, gooey cookies: Captain Cookie & the Milk Man

2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, (202) 556-3396, captaincookiedc.com

Cookies are good. But warm, gooey cookies? They’re magic. Captain Cookie & the Milk Man freshly bakes batches on its food trucks and at its Foggy Bottom shop, so you’re almost always guaranteed some melty chocolate and soft dough. I am partial to the spiced-up ginger molasses flavor, but chocolate chip purists won’t be disappointed. Order a glass of milk, or do yourself a favor and transform the cookies into a sandwich with a couple scoops of vanilla or black cherry ice cream. (Pro tip: You can get different flavored cookies on the top and bottom.) The treat is a little unwieldy to manage, but you’ll survive. You’re eating a freaking ice cream sandwich after all. —Jessica Sidman

Supreme luxury: Pineapple and Pearls

715 8th St. SE, (202) 595-7375, pineappleandpearls.com

From the first sip from spirit savant Jeff Faile to a sweet finale of boozy mini-doughnuts 14 courses later, you feel cradled in hospitality at Pineapple and Pearls. The latest restaurant from Rose’s Luxury’s Aaron Silverman is fine dining with a few tattoos.

Despite the moniker of the line-drawing cool kid next door, real luxury can be found at Pineapple and Pearls. “I want people to feel the same way they feel when coming into Rose’s, just in a more elegant space, a little less casual and more refined,” Silverman says. “But it’s the same soul.” 

That makes Pineapple and Pearls the place to book when you’re craving a blowout gastronomic, wine-soaked celebration that’s as much entertainment as a meal. Maybe it will even leave you bleary-eyed by meal’s end—grateful Silverman and team picked D.C. to feed and fuss over.

The tasting menu priced at $250 per person (inclusive of drinks, tax, and gratuity) kicks off with a progression of small bites that send the message that you’re in for treats full of tricks. Take the orb filled with fennel yogurt perched atop an absinthe set-up, for example. Or tableside egg-drop soup poured from a kettle over greens so fresh they could have been pried from a rabbit’s mouth that morning. The meal crescendos with a statement piece. On one recent occasion, smoked beef rib with mole and Jimmy Red corn grits did the honors. There’s no need for a second dinner after this tasting menu, which can’t be said for some of its prix-fixe competitors. 

More contributes to the luxe feel than just the finessed dishes served on a parade of plates and bowls that could belong in a museum. Servers twirl around the dining room advancing diners’ meals in a choreographed ballet. Check their feet for pointe shoes. Their collective vocabulary may abuse the word “enjoy,” but all is forgiven when they employ the Rose’s Luxury technique of making guests feel like Powerball winners. 

Here comes the big question: Is it worth the price tag and the online reservation gauntlet? If you have a hankering to feel spoiled in every way, yes. One hundred percent yes, because like a concert or a play, you’ll remember the meal long after the curtain closes. —Laura Hayes

All the beers: ChurchKey

1337 14th St. NW, (202) 567-2576, churchkeydc.com 

There are plenty of spots to get a quality beer in D.C., but few can match the selection and attention to detail of ChurchKey. The bar opened in 2009 as a beer stronghold in what was still an up-and-coming neighborhood. Today, the Logan Circle bar’s 50 constantly rotating temperature-controlled taps are enough to cure the worst case of beer boredom. The extensive menu, which also includes bottles, makes it easy to find a beer to match any occasion, from hoppy to malty to sour. All of ChurchKey’s draft beers are available by the glass or four-ounce pours, which encourages sharing and tasting multiple offerings. A visit to ChurchKey will likely result in discovering a new favorite brew or two, but finding that special beer again can be tricky. Repeat visits to the bar can bring a whole new draft list—but that’s not at all a bad thing. —Travis Mitchell

Virginia wine: The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm

42461 Lovettsville Road, Lovettsville, Va., (540) 822-9017, patowmackfarm.com

There is no better selection of local bottles—and no better view—than at this organic farm-restaurant overlooking the Potomac River. Request a table in the open-air tent and order wine from one of more than a half dozen different Virginia vineyards, including several fermenting grapes just a few miles down the road. The 2014 Chardonnay from Fabbioli Cellars with notes of citrus and light oak and North Gate Vineyards’ berry-forward 2014 Chambourcin are both currently available by the glass and primed for warm weather sipping. If you’re celebrating, you can drink like you’re attending a White House Dinner. Two Virginia sparkling wines—Blanc de Blanc and the Xtra Brut—are available by the bottle from the powerhouse team of winemaker Claude Thibaut and Champagne producer Manuel Janisson. —Jessica Strelitz

 

Archipelago’s Pineapple of Hospitality Credit: Darrow Montgomery

A flaming cocktail in a pineapple: Archipelago

1201 U St. NW. (202) 627-0794, archipelagobardc.com

Bartender Owen Thomson has been making the Pineapple of Hospitality for at least a decade. Back in his days at Bourbon in Adams Morgan, he would make two of the cocktails served in pineapples with flaming limes a day—but you couldn’t order one, it had to be gifted to you by the staff. “We never gave it to anyone we knew,” he says. “They were free. Basically, I’d go up to any one of the servers at some random time and be like, ‘Who do you like right now? You got a table that’s having fun?’” The Pineapple of Hospitality is no longer free, but it is available to one and all on the menu of U Street tiki bar Archipelago, Thomson’s latest venture with three bartender buddies. Its ingredients are listed on the menu simply as rum and “secrets.” (Not even my bartender on a recent visit was privy to the recipe.) It may cost $25 (or $16 during happy hour), but the drink for two—with goofy long straws—is still guaranteed to put a smile on your soon-to-be-drunk face. —Jessica Sidman

 

A $14 cocktail that’s worth it: 2 Birds 1 Stone

1800 14th St. NW, lower level, 2birds1stonedc.com

Unfortunately, most D.C. cocktails clock in at the all-too-familiar rate of $14. At some bars, what you get is a “mixologist” serving slightly above-grade rail liquor, and the cocktail is likely to get lost in showy garnishes, artisanal ice, and possibly some smoke or fire. But the pricetag is worth it at 2 Birds 1 Stone, where you’ll find both the classics, like a negroni, as well as inventive originals, like a tiki drink with Chartreuse and sherry. (OK, there’s some artisanal ice, too.) Bartender Adam Bernbach changes his menu weekly, and it tends to steer towards specific themes. Recently, he’s been channeling tropical vibes. A recent bourbon and amaro cocktail, the Banana Lindera, uses spicebush vinegar from local, small-batch vinegar producer Lindera Farms, as well as Bernbach’s own house-made banana soda. It sounds weird, but the ingredients all work together to make a refreshing, summertime drink that’s perfectly palatable at $14 a glass. —Tim Ebner

A fancy $5 cocktail: Twisted Horn

819 Upshur St. NW, (202) 290-1808, twistedhorndc.com

Twisted Horn in Petworth has something refreshing for those craving a fancy cocktail: throwback drinks with prices to match. The bar serves up a decidedly cheap $5 old fashioned with Pikesville Rye, as well as a $5 rotating punch during happy hour (Tuesdays through Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m). Bartender Michael Saccone, previously of sister restaurant Hank’s Oyster Bar on the Hill, isn’t just mailing it in when it comes to his classic cocktails either. His Blood & Sands punch, for example, is a 1930s-era drink that combines blended Scotch, cherry liqueur, and sweet vermouth. The bar will soon open its patio, and with it, comes one more drink deal: a $5 Aperol spritz. —Tim Ebner

A gin martini: Copycat Co.

1110 H St. NE, (202) 241-1952, copycatcompany.com

Owner and barman Devin Gong’s martinis are so good they not only satisfy a martini craving, they actually create the craving. If you’re ready to graduate from extra dirty vodka martinis to gin martinis with a twist, this is where you’re going to want to do it. Gong says the drink’s simplicity is exactly what makes it tough to get right. “The martini is above all about the technique and fresh ingredients,” he says. The first thing you’ll notice about his martini is how cold it is. To achieve this, he chills both the serving and stirring glasses, and the Copycat team makes and cuts its own clear ice in-house. It’s also about the stirring—when I tried Gong’s perfect martini, he must have stirred that thing for five minutes. Then, of course, it comes down to ingredients. Gong started out using Beefeater gin exclusively but has recently brought in Boodles, a London dry he employs solely for martinis. Dolin dry vermouth is kept fresh thanks to refrigeration and an understanding of its short shelf life, a detail that Gong feels makes all the difference. “A common mistake in making a crappy martini is oxidized vermouth,” he cautions. Add it all up, and you’ve got a cocktail that Gong says should taste “like super cold silk that drinks very easily.” Objective achieved, sir. —Rina Rapuano

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